11.11. 2011 Ict

Article: Users know better

Nowadays a lot of companies develop difficult to use software. It requires additional time to learn how to use it. It is not intuitive and enjoyable to deal with. Finally, clients do not like it.

This is true also for websites. Media companies use "push" approach towards information, which does not work for the "pull" era of the Internet. They do not prioritize main tasks and do not engage communication with potential clients.

Here are top 3 from 12 problems because of which IT projects fail: 1) bad defined requirements 2) poor communication and 3) poor stakeholder politics.

All three can be resolved with the investment in user research, testing and user centered design. This would not only bring better products to the market and make customers happier, but also save tremendous share of IT budgets.

What could be done

A good website or software product is made for humans. It is enjoyable and people easily understand how it should work. It speaks in user-friendly language and is self-evident.

To create a digital (or any other) product that would focus on end users' goals and needs, companies should include users on every step of the development life-cycle. Clients would adore software, which was created taking into account what they really want and need.

Leading companies in software and media rely heavily on user experience research and design. Apple puts it as a cornerstone of their product development. What is more, Apple is of the top clients for Nielsen Norman Group, which specialises in usability education.
Google gives guidelines for website owners how to be successful online. One of the main guidelines referred to quality says "Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines". How often we see companies obsessed with their position in search engines without understanding that this is only the first step to get customers. It is more important to build relationship and loyalty by providing very good user experience.
Even Rovio with its Angry Birds has invested heavily in user experience. Some experts claim that very carefully planned interaction with users is one of the reasons of game's success.

There is a great deal of research methods, techniques and tools how you can involve users in your development process. The one of the most popular and effective is usability testing. You test how your users interact with your existing or future website, software or any kind of product.
Usability testing helps to see the real process of interaction with your website or software. It is not about what people think, like or dislike, it is about how they use your product.
Usability testing is not a rocket surgery and can be even done on your company's own.

Here are some guidelines how to conduct simplified usability testing by yourself with spending minimum time and money:

1) Invite some people (3 would be good) who work in the next office to participate in your testing in return for a lunch.
2) Think about your software (website) main goal.
3) Create several typical tasks for a user that correspond with your software goal. For example, "calculate expenses on office goods for two last months".
4) When invited person comes, make him feel comfortable and explain that you test software but not him.
5) Ask his first impression about your software and also ask to complete tasks created.
6) Ask him to think aloud and do not give any hints how your software works.
7) Record testing (screen) on video. It would help you to analyse results afterwards.
8) Observe (can and should be one more company representative for this purpose) what the participant is doing and write down problems that he faces with your software.
9) When testing is finished and the participant left, try to figure out the main problems users faced. Then come up with the easiest and cheapest way how to solve them.

Of course, in real life everything is not that easy. Good results from usability testing require additional knowledge and experience. But the earlier you start to implement some usability practices in your product development process the better your software would be. And it would definitely result in more satisfied and repetitive customers.

To get inspiration, have a look at some of the main discount usability methods advocated by Jakob Nielsen: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/discount-usability.html.

To draw a line, technology is not something that can be worked on in isolation. It is created by humans and for humans. Such companies as Apple, Google and Rovio develop their products to be human-centered, so why your company should ignore usability?

Tetiana Denysova
User Experience Researcher
IDÉ Finland Oy